Yesterday, the WSJ quoted Qualcomm's CEO as saying its Flo TV service hasn't found the audience they'd hoped for and that its service model would be broadening to encompass other data delivery (link: Wall Street Journal). Then today I read that advocates of television broadcasting's entry into this space have demoed their similar service using broadcast spectrum in Detroit (link: TV Technology). Meanwhile, non-driving passengers are already viewing YouTube and other videos on their 3G smart phones for free. Seems as though both camps have a long way to go to demonstrate there's a business here. --Dennis
According to Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM, Clearwire may be clearing the way for a switch from WiMAX to LTE wireless technology, adding to the latter’s bandwagon.
Up until March 2008 I lived in northern Idaho and was a very satisfied Clearwire broadband customer. It was using a pre-standard WiMAX version. It delivered great speeds through a tiny antenna/receiver sitting on a window sill about five miles from Clearwire’s transmitter.
A new study, Wireless Broadband and the Redlining of Rural America [pdf], by Gregory Rose for the New America Foundation,
…suggests that 8-to-10 percent of rural America is likely to be permanently redlined by the incumbent wireless broadband providers because in those areas population density, median household income, and levels of commercial activity are too small to permit efficient aggregation of demand and too much of its geographic area is too remote from primary infrastructure (Internet backbone, internet highways) to permit cost-effective deployment….
Here's a link to the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan. I've not read it yet, but plan to at least read and comment here on the executive summary and chapters on spectrum and civic engagement within the next week or so. If you want to get a jump on this, here is the link: www.broadband.gov.
Update 24 March 2010: It doesn't appear on its web site yet, but Current's Dru Sefton has a good summary of its implications for public media organizations. If you're not a subscriber, check back on the web site in a few days.
About the proliferation of on-demand video platforms, Dan Rayburn writes:
After all the news that came out of CES last week on the number of companies working on software platforms for TVs and devices, one has to wonder if these platforms are destined to follow the fragmentation we currently have on the hardware side. As an industry, we still haven't figured out what devices can survive and co-exist in the long run. We currently have so many broadband enabled devices in the market including the Roku, TiVo, VUDU, PS3, Xbox 360, TVs, Blu-ray players, Apple TV and soon to be Boxee and Popbox, without having to figure out what platforms they can all run. …
The post also includes updates on a large number of platforms/businesses for moving content over broadband to your TV. Netflix alone claims that it will be on more than 100 broadband-enabled devices by the end of the year!
In a different post, Rayburn writes that Roku currently “holds the title belt” for units sold – more than 1 million, as of Jan. 8th being the number 2 best seller in Amazon’s television and video category. With less than a week of experience on my Roku HD-XR, I sure like it. Link: BusinessofVideo. --Dennis
Henry Jenkins has a two-part interview with Heather Chaplin on these topics (both professors). Chaplin is an advocate for a National Public Lightpath. An excerpt:
[J] Your white paper opens with the provocative question, "what part of the Internet is going to be devoted to the public interest?" How would you answer that question?
[C] It's actually a really hard question to answer, based on what your notion of "in the public interest" is. I mean, NPR and PBS have presences on the Internet. And I suppose you could argue that there are probably millions of sites out there that serve the general public good. So, if I were to play devil's advocate against myself, I suppose I would argue that the very nature of the Internet - the anyone-can-publish idea - is in itself a public good. ¶ But here's the thing, I'm not really the libertarian type. I don't believe that things will necessarily just sort themselves out if left alone. When I talk about creating a piece of the Internet in the public interest, I'm really talking about both public ownership of the infrastructure and content created specifically to educate, enlighten and enrich in the interests of genuine literacy and civic engagement. …
… Is the title of a November Nicholas Carr article in New York Times Magazine occasioned by his discovery that a new Blu-ray DVD player bought was internet-enabled. He writes:
… Ever since, and much to my surprise, I’ve been using the device more to transmit Internet content than to play discs. I stream TV shows and movies from Netflix, music from Pandora and videos from YouTube. Beyond my existing $11-a-month Netflix subscription, I haven’t forked out a penny for any of this programming. It comes flowing out of the Web, whenever I summon it, free. …
My Blu-ray player isn’t internet-enabled, but before Christmas, I bought a Roku box. Carr’s article inspired me to install it tonight. Actually, setup was pretty easy – the “hexy” password I use notwithstanding. The only annoyance was having to go to my computer to enter various access codes for the box and for various content “channels.” But now I can stream directly from Amazon and my Netflix account, view Flickr and Facebook photos, listen to Pandora, and view numerous free content sources like my fave, twit.tv. Really fast streaming access and decent video quality. I might actually use this toy. --Dennis
Glen Dickson has good overview of panel discussion at this week’s CES and from other sources about whether the feds should reallocate spectrum from television broadcasting to other uses. Link: Broadcasting & Cable.
Broadcasters are placing a lot of their claim on the spectrum on upcoming developments in the mobile space. Dickson also has an article on that which also contains some more on the spectrum issue. Link: Broadcasting & Cable. More here. --Dennis
Back in September, Radio World published a column titled “The Problem Isn’t Demand, It’s Bandwidth” by veteran broadcast engineer, Frank McCoy. The title was a bit of a non sequitur, because of course if there was no demand, bandwidth wouldn’t be a problem.
McCoy notes that:
… There are dire predictions that radio's best days have come and gone. Who can blame the pundit who sees only a simple consumer choice between listening to what some radio program director predicts that I (and 20,000 other people) want to hear, and choosing for myself exactly what I want when I want it? …
… Should we all be concerned that the days of the 1,000-foot tower are gone and that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection is a possible new competitor? Will radio as we know it become just another feature of cell phones? Will in-car Internet give commuters millions of station choices? ¶ The answer is no. …
He arrives at this “comforting” conclusion by comparing the bandwidth required by IP audio streams in a real-world situation vs. available bandwidth, finding that IP audio just won’t scale up enough to be a threat to radio broadcasters.
The exercise is interesting, but it would be a mistake for us to draw much comfort in it – at least if your goal is to stop worrying about other platforms.
 Distribution technology isn’t a static thing. For example, one of the commenters to his article points to a new broadcast-friendly technology called Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Services (MBMS) now being rolled out in certain cellular telephone networks. Other multicasting* efforts are also in development or available.
*NB: IP multicasting has a different meaning than does broadcast multicasting. Rather, it is a way to achieve one-to-many bandwidth scaling without having to have to “home run” each stream back to the original server. In other words, IP multicasting is roughly comparable to what we mean by broadcasting.
 Other technology components aren’t static, either. Better compression and error correction algorithms are being developed all the time which enable more and better services in less spectrum. And, for music stations, there is already the profound effect already felt from digital music players like the iPod, which in turn benefit from improvements in mass storage. Moore’s Law posits a doubling of data capacity every 18 months. One might ask, why take up valuable spectrum to repeatedly retransmit bits that can be more easily stored in a listener’s purse or shirt pocket? Or, as Pandora, Slacker and other streamers-that-learn have done, why not, if you’re going to retransmit bits, at least customize the radio experience on the fly? Smart radio operators in the future will learn how to stitch value into, and thereby extract value from, these customizable streams.
 IP streamers and broadcasters aren’t the only games in town. Digital TV broadcasters are about to get into the act with the ATSC-M/H standard in this country as DVB-H and 1seg have done so elsewhere. While billed as mobile video services, they also do mobile audio much more efficiently than the IP streaming most stations use now, so look for some of that traffic to migrate to the television spectrum.
 Ever since the brainy actress, Hedy Lamarr, co-invented frequency-hopping radio in 1941, our notions of spectrum as protected real estate have been under challenge. Some feel that spectrum as we know it is an obsolete concept – that smart receivers and smart transmitters can much more efficiently utilize the spectrum than can the geographically-allocated transmitters and dumb receivers that we now use (a huge amount of existing spectrum is un- or under-used due to the need to protect cheaply-made receivers). I posted back in June about efforts to raise a public debate about this from the New America Foundation, which had just published four papers on the topic. I doubt that either the economics of the consumer electronic industry or the requirement for the FCC to maintain a detailed and accurate database of transmitters in use will favor this idea any time soon, but these conditions, too, are not static and will likely become more favorable to more spectrum-efficient technologies in the future.
 Lastly, we broadcasters shouldn’t think of this as a complete migration of broadcast listening to mobile IP platforms insofar as its economic consequences. To be consequential to us, these services have to only skim the cream off our listening to harm the thinning margins that most stations are experiencing. So these new services don’t have to capture the full broadcast load of listener attention to do damage to legacy broadcasters.
Some 50 years back, radio faced another challenge as television decimated its previous programming model. Needle-drop radio replaced it and a new business model was born. We need to be at least as agile in adjusting broadcast service and business models as technology has shown in its ability to evolve over time. As the old joke’s punch line goes, one doesn’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.
As always, opinions expressed here are my own. --Dennis
Andrew Odlyzko of the University of Minnesota makes a withering analysis of the arguments of network service providers concerning why (real-time streaming capabilities) they oppose net neutrality. Odlyzko's analyses frequently challenge flabby assumptions with hard data and this one is particularly valuable.
Two of Om Malik's blogs today provide an overview of this important paper. In Streams Won't Pay for Themselves, Chris Albrecht writes:
... Video can be delivered more efficiently and less expensively using downloads over streaming, says Oldzyko, and these downloads can be more accommodating to the viewing habits of online audiences and just as secure as streams. ¶ Oldzyko thinks the belief that we need real-time streaming is a holdover from
broadcast and phone networks. ...
Then, in Hulu Bad For the Net, Video Still Not Clogging It, Stacey Higginbotham writes:
... the largest part of the paper is devoted to data that supports his
conclusions that content, such as Internet radio and video, is worth less than
connectivity such as voice or Twitter. People don’t pay for content, they pay
for connectivity, says Odlyzko. ...
Here's the abstract of and link to Odlyzko's paper:
Abstract. Service providers argue that if net neutrality is not enforced, they will have sufficient incentives to build special high-quality channels that will take the Internet to the next level of its evolution. But what if they do get their wish, net neutrality is consigned to the dustbin, and they do build their new services, but nobody uses them? If the networks that are built are the ones that are publicly discussed, that is a likely prospect.
What service providers publicly promise to do, if they are given complete control of their networks, is to build special facilities for streaming movies. But there are two fatal defects to that promise. One is that movies are unlikely to oer all that much revenue. The other is that delivering movies in real-time streaming mode is the wrong solution, expensive and unnecessary.
If service providers are to derive significant revenues and profits by exploiting freedom from net neutrality limitations, they will need to engage in much more intrusive control of traffic than just provision of special channels for streaming movies.